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PHOTOS/VIDEO: 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters SF Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray
Rafael Nadal is through to his 100th tour-level final after fighting from a set down to beat Andy Murray 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in a thrilling contest on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
When he faces Gael Monfils on Sunday, Nadal will challenge for his 68th tour-level crown and ninth at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he won eight successive titles from 2005-12.
“It’s a very important week for me, being in a final here again in Monte-Carlo, winning against very tough opponents,” said Nadal. “That’s a lot of great confidence, good news for me. Let’s see if tomorrow I can playing at the same level.
“I am trying my best every single day. I want to be today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today, and after tomorrow better than tomorrow. That’s it. That’s my work today, and that’s my motivation.”
The Spaniard is bidding to draw level with leader Novak Djokovic on 28 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles by claiming his first trophy at this level since 2014 Madrid, where he beat Kei Nishikori in the final.
After battling wins over Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Benoit Paire, the second-seeded Murray has improved throughout the week in Monte-Carlo and showed his best tennis as he dictated against Nadal in the first set. The Dunblane native did not hold back, and his aggression paid off as he broke Nadal to lead 4-2.
Murray squandered a 30/0 lead in the following game, but saved two break points with an ace and a forehand winner to stay in front, before breaking Nadal again to claim the opener.
Nadal looked set to mount a fightback as he broke Murray in the first game of the second set. But Murray continued to pummel away from the back of the court and was rewarded as he immediately levelled at 1-1. The Spaniard did not let slip a second break advantage though. After breaking Murray for a 4-3 lead, Nadal warmed to his task and rallied from 15/40 in the following game and went on to draw level.
It was all Nadal in the decider. The Spaniard was the one controlling the baseline exchanges and stepping in, taking advantage of a slight drop in Murray’s level. The Manacor native broke Murray in the first game of the third set and raced into a 5-2 lead. Murray made a last stand in an enthralling eighth game, saving four match points before creating two break chances. But Nadal stepped up to thwart Murray and converted his fifth match point in two hours and 44 minutes.
“I didn’t play badly in the first set, but not deep enough and not enough inside the court,” said Nadal. “So Andy had the chance to have control of the points too many times inside the court, hitting winners.
“Something was not going well in that first set because he was playing too easy, in my opinion. Then I needed to change something. I think I did.
“I think I played a great second set in terms of mentality. In the third set, I played aggressive. I played a great set, too. Very good points. Was a great match, I think.”
Nadal improved to a 57-4 record in Monte-Carlo as he reached the final for the 10th time. From 2005, he won 46 straight matches here before defeat to Djokovic in the 2013 final.
The Mallorcan is bidding to win his first ATP World Tour title since July 2015, when he captured the clay-court crown in Hamburg. He started his 2016 campaign with a runner-up showing in Doha (l. to Djokovic) and subsequently reached semi-finals in Buenos Aires (l. to Thiem), Rio de Janeiro (l. to Cuevas) and Indian Wells (l. to Djokovic).
The 28-year-old Murray was looking to reach the final at the Monte-Carlo Country Club for the first time, after losing to Nadal at the semi-final stage in 2009 and 2011. Murray made his clay-court breakthrough last season, winning his first two titles on the dirt in Munich (d. Kohlschreiber) and at the Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he beat Nadal.
“I played a good match today,” said Murray. “It wasn’t perfect. But apart from the one game at 3-1 in the third, I played good. I missed some shots. But you have to obviously take chances against the best players. If I don’t do that, you know, then you lose anyway.
“I do feel like I played a pretty good level match today for the most part. Obviously there was a few dips. But that can happen. Also Rafa is allowed to play well sometimes, too. So you have to give your opponent credit.
“He’s one of the best, if not the best ever, on this surface. At times today he played very well. When he does, you can’t always decide the outcome. He played some good stuff today and deserved to win.”